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Immersed in Scripture
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immerse messiah 2 640x539One of the things I’m most excited about as we look toward the new year at Tri-Lakes UMC is our all-church focus on reading through the Bible, beginning with the New Testament. Starting in January, we’ll be inviting everyone in our congregation to take a 16-week journey through the entire sweep of the 27 books of the Bible that tell the story of Jesus and what it means for humanity and for the world. Over the next three years, we’ll be engaged in reading through the rest of the Bible together, with the fall of 2020 focusing on the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Old Testament. For those who have never read through the whole Bible, and even for those who have, reading Scripture in community can be transformational!


To do this, we’re engaging in a different approach than most “normal” Bible reading plans. Most people who read the Bible tend to do in piecemeal, relying on chapters and verses to guide the reading. While there’s certainly value in that kind of biblical reading and study, it does have a tendency to trend toward proof-texting and it often keeps us from reading the more difficult, troubling, and “weird” parts of the Bible. If “all Scripture is useful” and “God-breathed” as Paul wrote to Timothy, then “all Scripture” needs a fair hearing.


The approach we’ll be taking focuses on reading the whole witness of Scripture the way it was originally read and intended to be read–more like a book than a manual. In Jesus’ day, Scripture was always read aloud and in public and read in large chunks of text so as to bring the whole story and theology of the text to the forefront. Chapters and verses weren’t added until the 16th century when Gutenberg’s printing press began to make the Scriptures more accessible to a wider audience. The original biblical scrolls and codex books invited a wider reading. Getting back to that kind of reading allows us to encounter the Bible with new eyes and to see connections and context we may not have seen before.


Our friend and Palmer Lake resident Glenn Paauw (who has preached at TLUMC) is the President of the Institute for Bible Reading and, along with Tyndale House publishers, has put together a reader’s version of the Bible called Immerse. It divides the Bible into six separate books grouped in a chronological way rather than the type-grouping of the biblical canon (where the Gospels are grouped together, for example, as are the letters of Paul). Immerse eliminates the chapter and verse designations and allows you to focus on the full voice of the Scriptures rather than the usual verse-by-verse approach.


Reading in this way, with just a few pages a day, five days a week, we will read through the entire New Testament in 16 weeks, from January through Easter 2020. Not a reader? You can also listen to each day’s reading via the TLUMC app, which is a great option for those who commute or simply want to experience the Bible in a different way.


Throughout our New Testament journey, I’ll be providing a weekly video commentary as well, which you can access via our web site and social media feeds. This will give you some historical and theological background for your reading. After all, as we like to say around here, a text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to say!


During this 16-week period, Jason and I will also focus on one key New Testament book on Sunday mornings. Beginning in January, we’ll begin preaching through the 16 chapters of the Gospel of Mark. Since the New Testament is really all about Jesus, Mark provides us with the centering story around which the rest of the books revolve. We think you will find it helpful to go deep into this important and early expression of the good news about Jesus and compare it to what you are reading in the other Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.


The Immerse New Testament, titled Messiah, will be available for purchase for $10 in the Great Room at TLUMC starting this Sunday. You can also purchase a hard copy or Kindle version via Amazon. Of course, you can also use your preferred Bible and follow along (we’ll provide the appropriate passage range each week in the Devotional Guide in the bulletin), but we think you’ll get the most out of reading with fresh eyes, unencumbered by all the additional layers of stuff that is in a normal Bible.


I want to encourage those who may be reading this who aren’t local to join us in reading as well; and I invite everyone to consider getting a small group together to read in community. We’ll provide you with some guiding questions to go over each week. Think of this not as a “Bible study” but really more like a “Bible Book Club.” You’re reading not to get into the weeds and details but to see how the whole story unfolds. And you’re reading in order to build community around the story that is the guiding story for all of human life.


I’ve been reading through the New Testament over the last several months using Immerse and I can tell you personally that it’s a game-changer! I’ve noticed connections I haven’t seen before over the course of a lifetime of studying the Bible. I think you will be blessed and your life transformed by reading, really reading, the Word of God!

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